Bun Oc – An Iconic Dish of Hanoi

The stars of this dish are, obviously, snails. And sometimes they can be unsightly to look at. However, once you get over the sight, you’ll know why this dish has gained quite a lot of prominence among the people.

The chilly weather of winter always makes me crave a steamy, and spicy, hot bowl of bún ốc (snail rice noodles). While this dish is perhaps not as well-known to foreigners as pho (beef noodles), it’s a hidden gem that many locals are most definitely in love with.

 A bowl of bún ốc with full toppings. Photo: Thuy An. 

There’s always something intimidating about it though. The stars of this dish are, obviously, snails. And sometimes they can be unsightly to look at. However, once you get over the sight, you’ll know why this dish has gained quite a lot of prominence among the people.

The highlight of bún ốc is the harmony of the flavor and texture. The rich bone broth has a unique tangy taste derived from ripe tomatoes and rice vinegar that will make you crave for more. It’s normally topped with some chewy snail and cooked tomatoes. Some places also offer beef, crispy tofu, and Vietnamese sausage (giò tai), so choosing which toppings to add is definitely up to your preference. This dish is always served with a plentiful platter of fresh herbs such as mint and basil. And if you want a more piquant taste, add a few drops of shrimp paste into the broth. A bit of chili oil will also enhance the flavor and make your bowl of noodles look more appetizing.

 The space is quite limited, and can house 15 people maximum. Photo: Thuy An. 

One of my favorite places to eat bún ốc is Bún Ốc Cô Huệ (Miss Hue’s snail rice noodles), which is located in Nguyen Sieu Street. I’ve been eating here for years, and have to say that the quality remains the same and never disappoints me.

There’s so much to love about a bowl of bún ốc here; it’s traditional-style, so you won’t find beef, tofu, or anything else except snails. And the snails here are truly excellent! They have a rubbery, meaty texture and take on the rich flavor of the broth with which they’re cooked. If you’re a fan of really chewy snails, go for big one. For those who’ve never tried snails before, I suggest eating small snails since they don’t have as strong of a taste as big snails, and the texture isn’t too rubbery. Or you can order a mix of both – it’s totally up to you!  Another great news to you - the bowl is packed-full of toppings that you’ll feel like there’s no end in sight.

The broth is also the star of the dish. It strikes a perfect balance between tangy and sweet flavors, and I usually put a bit of chili oil to spice things up a little. What further sets this dish apart from other counterparts is the addition of chả ốc (snail cakes), an unorthodox topping that not many places have. They are made with a variety of herbs, have a slightly chewy texture, and taste well-seasoned.

 
 The chewy, meaty snails are the highlight of the dish. Photo: Thuy An. 

Usually, bún ốc is served piping hot. But this store also sells bún ốc nguội, which is literally translated as cold snail rice noodles. What’s different about this dish is that you’ll get a bowl of cold broth packed with green onions, tomatoes, and snails and a separate plate of fresh rice noodles. As you eat, dip some rice noodles into the bowl, take a sip of the broth, and feel the flavor spreads through your mouth. This dish is extremely popular in the summer, as it brings a refreshing taste that can slowly dissipates the scorching heat of Hanoi’s weather.

One caveat of this store is that it’s quite small, and there’s only enough space for about 15 people to pack in. The owner usually sets up two extra tables in the sidewalks in front of the store, so you can choose to sit there as well. Also, the parking space is very limited, and maybe able to accommodate a few motorbikes or bikes only. 

Regardless, eating at this store is such a pleasant experience. The shop owner, Miss Hue, is cheerful and welcoming. She loves to chat, and will tell you all sorts of stories.

So if you want to try out a dish that exudes a sense of Hanoi culinary elegance and sophistication, pay a visit to Bún Ốc Cô Huệ, 15 Nguyen Sieu, Hoan Kiem District.

Hanoitimes

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